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Archive for April 2011

Dear Mr. President: Remember the elephants

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

Britain’s last remaining “circus elephant,” Annie, recently packed her trunk and went to live her final years on hundreds of acres of rolling lawns on a country estate. Her retirement came after the release of undercover video footage showing that circus workers kicked and thrashed her and jabbed her in the face with a pitchfork. Annie is almost 60 years old and has spent her life in a circus, which, for elephants, means “in chains.” The look on her face as she was forced to pose with the circus owner is enough to break any kind person’s heart.

Meanwhile, Ringling Bros. is still dragging its “beast wagons” around the U.S. Anyone who cares about animals should stay away from this, the “Saddest Show on Earth.”

Three elephants who are traveling with Ringling, Karen, Nicole and Sara, suffer from what veterinarians say is chronic lameness and other problems, including arthritis, cracked toenails, which make putting weight on their feet painful, and scarring on their chins, the result of being struck many times by bullhooks—weapons resembling fireplace pokers with a metal hook at one end. Forty-two-year-old Karen also has a type of tuberculosis that is communicable to humans. She was banned from entering Tennessee earlier this year, but other states have failed to take similar action, putting children at risk and surely exacerbating the stress on Karen’s immune system. 

Pop star Pink has written to President Obama, urging him to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to act to stop circus cruelty. She included with her letter a copy of the 16-page complaint that PETA has filed with the USDA Office of General Counsel (OGC) detailing three cases of egregious animal abuse by Ringling.

The incidents are shocking. Riccardo, an 8-month-old baby elephant, had to be euthanized after breaking both his legs while being put through a rigorous “training” regimen. Clyde, a lion, baked to death in a boxcar when Ringling refused to stop the train—simply because it was running late—to cool him off and give him water during a long journey through the Mojave Desert. And Angelica, another elephant, was beaten by one of her handlers, despite the fact that she was chained and could not move.

These are all violations of federal law and need to be acted upon. In 2006, the USDA assured then-Sen. Obama, who had contacted the agency on behalf of his constituents, that if violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) were found, prosecution would follow. The agency’s own investigators found AWA violations and recommended enforcement action, but nothing happened.

In the case of Riccardo, Ringling employees were quick to say that the baby pachyderm broke his legs while playing and that he hadn’t begun training, although it was later revealed in a lawsuit over beatings inflicted with bullhooks that Riccardo had in fact been undergoing a training program and had had ropes tied to his legs and trunk when he fell. In the case of Clyde, a former Ringling lion handler described in an affidavit how Ringling tried to deceive the USDA by installing a sprinkler system inside the boxcar in which Clyde perished after the fact. According to USDA investigators, Ringling also refused to hand over crucial evidence, even after receiving a subpoena. 

There is much more, but the key issue is whether our new OGC General Counsel Ramona E. Romero will do the right thing. As Pink points out, it is high time that the USDA made good on its promise to protect animals used and abused under the big top. Elephants may be the symbol of the Republican Party, but people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle should stick up for these sorely abused animals.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

This Easter, choose eggs that are green, not mean

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

The White House recently announced that its annual Easter Egg Roll event will feature “green” eggs. They’ll come in a variety of pastel colors, but they’ll all be “green” because they’ll be made from Forest Stewardship Council–certified hardwood and packaged in environmentally friendly materials. Not only are these eggs better for the environment, they’re also better for chickens. Everyone who celebrates Easter can follow the White House’s lead and be green, not mean, by choosing faux eggs instead of chicken eggs this spring.

For hens who are forced to lay eggs, Easter is nothing to celebrate. Most of the eggs that Americans dye and decorate for the holiday come from chickens who are confined to filthy factory farm sheds containing row upon row of tiny, multitiered wire cages. These hens spend their lives crammed into cages with four to 10 other birds. Each bird’s average living space is smaller than a letter-sized sheet of paper. Hens on egg factory farms never breathe fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun on their backs or engage in any of their natural behaviors. They can’t even stretch a single wing.

The birds are crammed so closely together that these normally clean animals are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. The stench of ammonia from the accumulated feces under the birds saturates the air and burns the birds’ feathers. Disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds. Many birds die, and the survivors are often forced to live with their dead and dying cagemates, who are sometimes left to rot.

Due to extreme crowding, stress and boredom, the miserable hens peck at the only thing available: each other. Farm workers “solve” this problem by slicing off a portion of each hen’s sensitive beak with a hot blade—without giving the birds any painkillers. Many birds, unable to eat because of the pain, die from dehydration and weakened immune systems.

The light in the sheds is constantly manipulated in order to maximize egg production. Periodically, the hens’ calorie intake is restricted for two weeks at a time in order to force their bodies into an extra laying cycle. When hens are “spent” and their egg production drops at about two years of age, they’re sent to slaughter, where their throats are cut open while they’re still conscious.

Meanwhile, male chicks are considered worthless to the egg industry because they don’t produce eggs and are too small to profitably be used for their flesh. So every year, millions of male birds are thrown into macerators and ground up alive or tossed into trash bags to slowly suffocate.

Luckily, kids don’t care whether their Easter eggs came from a chicken. Having fun and spending time with family and friends is what matters, and neither of these requires real eggs.

Most craft stores sell paper or wooden eggs that are perfect for painting or decorating with crayons, stickers, glitter or markers. They are mess-free and won’t crack if dropped, and kids can display them for as long as they’d like because, unlike real eggs, they won’t rot. For kids who are dying to dye something, making tie-dyed T-shirts is always a hit.

Brightly colored plastic eggs are ideal for Easter egg hunts. They can be filled with candy, small toys, coins, stickers, love notes or any other small surprise you can imagine. They are inexpensive, can be reused year after year and are much more exciting for kids to find than a hard-boiled egg.

Real eggs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. This Easter, why not follow the First Family’s lead and have a first-class Easter celebration—without harming hens.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Are we supporting violence in God’s name?

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By Bruce Friedrich

In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict XVI boldly and rightly condemns violence that is carried out in God’s name. Yet even devout Christians try to excuse themselves of their role in the horrific violence that is carried out against some of God’s most vulnerable creatures—the animals we raise and kill for food—by claiming that God has given us permission to do whatever we want to them.

God’s granting to humans “dominion” over animals in Genesis 1:26 is often falsely cited as divine approval for torturing animals for the table. Most theologians recognize that the word translated as “dominion” is more accurately translated as “stewardship” and that the meaning of this text is that humans are supposed to be stewards and guardians, protecting and respecting the beings with whom we share the gift of creation.

But all the questions (or excuses) that are put forth in favor of eating animals don’t address the fundamental fact that eating God’s creatures causes needless violence and suffering and is inextricably linked to their abuse. If you are eating meat, you’re paying others to deny God’s animals their own natures and to abuse them. Even the very few organic and small farms abuse animals in ways that would be illegal if done to dogs or cats.

Pope Benedict XVI stated in an interview that the question of animal treatment is a crucial one for the faithful. By any measure, what happens to farmed animals today is anti-Christian. As His Holiness explained, “Hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds.” Similar abuse occurs in all the farmed-animal industries. This “degrading of living creatures,” explains His Holiness, contradicts “the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” Father John Dear, a Jesuit Priest from New Mexico, takes our responsibility to animals a step further, stating, “For the simple reasons that all animals are creatures beloved by God and that God created them with a capacity for pain and suffering, we should adopt a vegetarian diet.”

It doesn’t take much reflection to see that the Pope and Father Dear are right: God created humans and other animals out of flesh, blood and bone. We share the same five physiological senses and the ability to feel pain. God designed us this way. God designed pigs to root around in the soil for food and play with one another. God designed chickens to make nests, lay eggs, raise their chicks and establish communities (the “pecking order”).

Yet agribusiness today denies animals the fulfillment of their most fundamental needs. Agricultural scientists “play God” by manipulating animals to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs and limbs can’t keep up, often causing heart attacks, lung failure or crippling leg deformities within weeks of birth. Chickens are crammed into cages by the hundreds of thousands, each with less space in which to live than a standard sheet of paper. During pregnancy, pigs are stuffed into tiny metal crates so small that they can’t even turn around. Forget rooting in the soil or laying their eggs in nests—these animals can barely move. The one natural thing they do get to experience is agony, and lots of it.

Scripture is full of calls for the faithful to be merciful, and Jesus’ message is one of love and compassion, yet there is nothing loving or compassionate about the industries that produce the farmed animals who are turned into meat. Christians have a choice: When we sit down to eat, we can support misery and violence or we can make choices that support mercy and compassion. The decision should be an easy one for us.

Bruce Friedrich is a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm

All bears in zoos are Knut

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Just four short years ago, a white ball of fluff captured the attention of the world. Now hearts are broken with the news that Knut, the polar bear at the Berlin Zoo, had a convulsion, collapsed and died as hundreds of visitors watched. Even in death Knut was on display.

He was marketed as the poster child for “cute,” but Knut was a deeply troubled bear. He spent his days pacing incessantly, bobbing his head repeatedly and exhibiting so much captivity-induced mental distress that one German zoologist called him a “psychopath.” Chased, bitten and harassed by his three cellmates and besieged by onlookers, Knut never knew a moment’s peace or privacy. Polar bears are naturally solitary animals who shun human contact and don’t seek out the company of other bears.

Like all baby animals bred in zoos to bring in paying customers, the adorable cub quickly grew to adulthood. As his marketing and merchandising appeal waned, the Berlin Zoo attempted to unload the less cute adult Knut to another zoo. But Berliners wanted to keep their star. The crowds will move on, but it’s too late for Knut.

Polar bears thrive in enormous Arctic expanses and open water—which no zoo can provide. An Oxford University study found that polar bears suffer physical and mental anguish in captivity and noted that a typical polar bear enclosure is about one-millionth the size of the animal’s minimum home range. Captive polar bears all over North America have died young of causes such as eating debris thrown into the cage, fights with cagemates and reactions to anesthesia.

Bears of all species fare very poorly in zoos. In some bear exhibits, the animals’ constant pacing wears a visible path into the ground, and sometimes one can see the actual paw impressions in the soil where the bears step in the same spot over and over again. These animals aren’t just bored; they are in a state of profound despondency.

Try to imagine living in the same cramped place for the rest of your life. Animals who are genetically designed to roam, swim or fly freely are no more able to adjust to lifelong captivity than we are. That’s why prison is considered society’s harshest punishment.

We are appalled when we learn that Montezuma put albinos and hunchbacks on display for people’s amusement. Yet how is locking animals in cages and letting streams of people gawk, point and laugh at them any different? Just like us, animals want and deserve to live their lives as nature intended.

The next time you consider taking your kids or grandchildren to the zoo, please ask yourself this: Would you wish that kind of bleak existence on your loved ones? Is having a way to occupy the kids for a few hours reason enough to support the lifelong captivity of intelligent and social animals? Do you really want to teach your child that this is the right way to treat the animals they care about?

Keeping animals in cages from birth to death, forcing them into breeding regimens to churn out ticket-selling babies and sentencing animals to a lifetime of deprivation must come to an end. If your family cares about animals, don’t support their cruel confinement. Before you buy a zoo ticket, please remember that animals’ quality of life matters just as much to them as yours does to you.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Entertainment

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